Real vampires do not always feed. They socialize as well, especially with others of their own kind. Older, more experienced vampires (known as “elders”) will often form “houses” or “covens” to counsel younger, less experienced vampires on how to live with their condition. For psychic vampires, this guidance may also include instruction on the various methods of feeding—“contact feeding” through physically touching the donor; “ambient feeding” by taking excess energy that is naturally generated in high-traffic public places; or even “tantric feeding” through sexual encounters.
The use of terms and practices like these across the vampire community has been crucial to unifying it, helping its members construct a narrative about themselves. In popular culture, vampirism is associated with psychopathology, excess, and a general sense of social disconnection. But in reality, vampires say, they’re just a community like any other, one made of like-minded people who share rules and traditions.
A true sense of community among vampires began to emerge in the 1970s, as people who consumed blood or drained energy for nourishment began attending themed social gatherings—Dark Shadows conventions, events for blood fetishists, and bondage and S&M conventions—that allowed them to network with potential donors, and often to find others who shared their condition in the process.
In the early 1970s, some of the first organizations dedicated to studying vampires were also taking shape. Jeanne Keyes Youngson founded the Count Dracula Fan Club (now The Vampire Empire) in 1965, originally as an organization dedicated to Dracula and vampire fiction and film. But between 1970 and 1972, Youngson began receiving letters from people who self-identified as vampires. By 1974, after meeting with some of her vampire-fans, she extended the group’s purview to include real vampirism, demonstrating some of the first intellectual interest in the topic.
Around the same time, the paranormal investigator Stephen Kaplan formed the Vampire Research Center, the first organization dedicated entirely to the study of real vampirism. Through it, Kaplan supervised a “vampire hotline,” where anonymous callers could phone in to tell Kaplan and his staff about their vampiric behavior.
By the 1980s, ethnographers began to identify sub-sections of the vampire community, including people who experience sexual gratification through blood-letting rituals. The community grew in the 1990s, but real vampires still existed mostly in isolation or in small groups, relying on nearby fan conventions, low-circulation newsletters, and print correspondence.
Then, all at once, a confluence of cultural trends facilitated the rapid growth of the real-vampire community.
The first was the rise of Anne Rice conventions. Rice had begun writing her gothic fiction in the 1970s, but the 1994 film adaptation of her book Interview with the Vampire ushered in a new era of mainstream interest in vampires. The conventions quickly became meccas for vampires as well as vampire fans, doing for the community what Dark Shadows gatherings had done to a lesser degree a few decades earlier. Just as before, they provided closeted real vampires with opportunities to meet others like them, as well as people willing to satisfy their appetites.